I have heard multiple times already this year about a new-ish scam that is running in Italy and across Europe. I haven’t encountered this one yet myself but it sounds like it is going to be everywhere this summer. Originally I planned to send this a an email to the travelers on my upcoming Glam Italia Tours, but as so many of you will also be heading to Europe this summer I want you to be aware too.
Any place that has lots of tourists is going to have its share of scammers and petty thieves hoping to separate them from their valuables.
The following are three scams you need to be watching out for, number three is the new one.
1. Be Wary Of Beggars
Just as we have homeless people panhandling here in the USA, in Europe you will see beggars, especially around big tourist attractions. In Italy you will see them around the big churches and cathedrals, in Paris you see many more, and they seem to be on the streets in the busy areas.
I will happily buy food for the hungry, and do it all the time, but when it comes to beggars in Europe I generally keep my distance. I am there often enough to see the same faces working the same places, year in and year out.
You will see gypsy women on their knees in the gutter, crying and begging for money. Look a little closer and you will see they’re not thin or starving, in fact plenty of them are chunkier than I am! Often (but not always) they work in teams. Their partners are watching from across the street or somewhere nearby to see where you pull your money from, and what valuables are on your wrists and fingers. A few minutes later they bump into you or distract you, and before you know it your wallet is gone, your watch is gone or whatever they wanted is gone.
As much as you want to be compassionate, don’t be.
This one has been happening in Paris forever, but last year while there I finally was able to see it in action. I let it keep going for ages just because I was so entertained, but I seriously advise you to walk away and not engage should this happen to you.
The way it works is the scammer will pretend to find a ring on the ground not far from you. They will politely ask if you dropped it or if it is yours. As they look at it they will tell you it has an inscription, normally something to do with how many carats gold it is.
If you let them keep talking they will tell you they don’t have papers to be in the country so can’t turn it in or sell it, and then they try to convince you to buy it from them.
Remember if you let these people get physically close to you chances are they will rob you without you being even slightly aware of what is going on. And of course, do not even think about buying the ring! It is a fake, and on top of that you are showing them where your money is.
I haven’t been aware of this scam in Italy, but then again after a lifetime of going back and forth to Paris, last summer was the first time I actually saw it there, so who knows?
This one is happening in Italy at the moment. I have seen it discussed on some of the Facebook groups and travel forums I belong to several times already this year. So far travelers have been in Florence and in Milan when this has happened, but it no doubt happens elsewhere too.
A man or woman stops you and asks you the time or for directions, (or for whatever they can get you to stop for) then they grab your wrist and tie a bracelet onto it. As soon as it is tied they start demanding money for it. Travelers have reported being followed down the street, and one reported being threatened. Aparently the scammers are quite aggressive.
Should this happen to you, yell at the top of your voice. They figure that you will quietly acquiesce and they will get away with it. If you make a lot of noise other people will stop and any police in the area will come (if they hear you). The last thing a scammer wants is the attention of a crowd or of the police, so make as much noise as you can.
While you are traveling you need to be aware of pickpockets and scammers. If someone approaches you, don’t stop to speak to them. Scammers are banking on you being naïve, gullible and unaware. They plan on you thinking it would be rude not to stop and acknowledge them.
The ladies traveling with me are pretty much safe, because I think, scammers can smell the fierceness of a firey redhead coming their way and won’t waste their time with the significant trouble on the immediate horizon (me) when there are plenty of unsuspecting tourists to pick on.
That being said, I will be telling my travelers exactly what I am telling you:
*Keep your handbag closed at all times. If your bag has a flap closure wear the flap side against your body.
*Always keep your hand on your bag.
*Guys, don’t put your wallet in your back pocket.
*Don’t stop and talk to people who approach you– if someone needs to know the time or needs directions there are plenty of other people they can ask. An Italian is not going to stop a tourist – they will ask another Italian. If someone is approaching you, trying to get your attention or trying to talk to you, ignore them and keep moving.
The best way to avoid pickpockets, gypsies et al is to be aware. Know they are out there but that they are looking for easy pickings. When you look like you are aware of your surroundings and your belongings you are less enticing. Don’t hang your handbag on your chair, don’t put your bag or your camera down and turn your back on them, don’t flash money around.
Before you let yourself get panicked, remember that here in the USA the bad guys have guns. In Italy and across Europe they don’t.
Are you looking for a fabulous day trip from Barcelona? Would you like to find a quaint little Catalan town to stay in for a few days or forever? I want to tell you about Girona, an exquisitely beautiful little walled city with a history that dates back to 79 B.C
Girona is incredibly lovely. Situated 99km northeast of Barcelona in the heart of Catalunya, Girona is the perfect place to escape to for a day trip, but also would make a gorgeous home-base for your entire Catalan vacation. While I was walking around soaking up the beauty of this darling town I kept thinking I would like to run away here for a couple of weeks, or even longer.
10 Things You Must Do In Girona
1. Game of Thrones Tour
Are you a Game of Thrones fan? Parts of season 6 were filmed in Girona. I haven’t seen season 6 but apparently it was a big deal. Game of Thrones fans can take a walking tour of the filming locations.
Apparently the guides even have iPads to show you clips from the show to help you identify the places you are seeing. I haven’t taken the tour but have been told that Viator runs them.
2. Cross the Eiffel Bridge
Two years before he built his famous tower Gustav Eiffel built a bridge in Girona. In December it was covered in yellow ribbons.
Just seeing the Eiffel Bridge juxtaposed against the prettily colored buildings across the Onyar river is a little surreal, but fittingly magnificent.
3. Climb the Cathedral Steps
I couldn’t figure out why the cathedral seemed off kilter until I realized it only has one tower! The steps of the Girona cathedral are not only never ending, but also very popular. (If you want a good photo you need to get there first thing in the morning, otherwise you will have stair-climbers in your pictures.)
For those of you who enjoy burning quads and lungs and do make it up to the top, see if you can spot the witch. Legend has it that a witch used to hide up there and throw stones. As punishment she was turned into a gargoyle and now spits rainwater instead of curses. Look for her amongst the gargoyles – she really is up there!
I was so disappointed that by the time I actually found the Arab Baths they had closed for the day. I was there in December when they closed at 2 pm. Built in the 12th century in the Romanesque style with Saracen accents, the baths were in use until the end of the 14th century, and then were restored in the 20th century. Famous for their beauty and for the play of light and dark these baths are a must see on your trip to Girona. Just don’t be like me and miss them – go early!
5. Walk the Medieval Walls
The Passieg de la Muralla, or the walkway that spans the length of the wall on the eastern border of the old town of Girona give you the advantage of being up high to take in the sweeping views of this beautiful city. The walls don’t circle the city anymore, but you can still have an extended walk. I was advised to go up in the late afternoon after the sun has peaked and is beginning to soften. It made for really beautiful views but not such great photos for an entirely novice photographer. It was however one of my favorite activities while I was there!
Of course I got lost and went up from the direction they advise you to go down, but we spent a good hour just exploring the ramparts and soaking up the history before eventually getting to the wall. Along the way we met other people who were equally lost, so I did feel somewhat vindicated!
View of Girona from the Passeig de la Muralla
I wonder how many arrows were fired through here by soldiers up on the wall, protecting Girona?
However you get there and whichever end you start at, go walk the medieval wall.
6. Wander The Jewish Quarter
The Jewish Quarter, known as El Call, is one of the best preserved in Europe. In the 12th century Girona was home to one of the most important Kabbalistic schools in all of Europe. The Jewish community flourished here from the late 10th century until 1492 when the Catholic Church outlawed Judaism, forcing everyone to either convert or go into exile.
More than 500 years later the maze-like winding alleyways and cobblestoned lanes of El Call are still intact, and wonderful to explore.
From any of the many bridges crossing the Onyar the views are just so incredibly pretty. At first glance it reminds me of Florence, but once that semblance passes, this view is the heart of Girona.
8. Enjoy A Long, Slow Lunch on La Rambla de la Llibertat
We walked all over the old town before stopping for lunch at La Tasca on La Rambla de la Llibertat. La Rambla de la Llibertat was originally a wide market street but now is lined with restaurants and cafes all with tables outside on the pavement under an arbor of trees. It is gorgeous.
It may have been that it was low tourist season, but everywhere we looked it was mostly locals at all the restaurants, which is always a good sign! All were enjoying a long, slow, Catalan lunch, so we did the same.
We were there on my birthday, so in it’s own way it was extra special. To me anyway.
We had Iberian ham and cheeses, local bread from the bakery across the street, Catalan escargots and a spicy bowl of patates bravas, along with a really incredible local wine and some coffee.
It was a Sunday afternoon and a local band was playing Catalan folk music at the far end of La Rambla with the town’s old folks all dancing. It actually felt as though we were extras in a movie. Definitely block off time to enjoy a long lunch in Girona!
9. Kiss The Lion’s Bum
Much like rubbing the Cinghiale’s nose guarantees you will come back to Florence, Girona has its own statue that promises you a return trip. This time instead of a nose rub you need to do some butt kissing.
“Qui besa el cul de la lleona retorna a Girona”
“Whoever kisses the ass of the lion will return to Girona”
First you have to find the statue of the lioness in the Placa de Sant Feliu. It could be argued that she is scampering up the pole to get away from tourist lips, but legend has it that if you climb the specially placed steps and plant a big smooch on her derriere you are guaranteed to come back to Girona.
This town is so completely lovely I just had to kiss the lion’s bum!
The original Romanesque pole and lion were erected in the 12th century. As time passed and legend was created the lion became a lioness. The original statue is in Girona’s Museum of Art, the current statue being erected in 1986.
10. Drink Cava in Plaça Indepencia
My original plan had been to stay at least one night in Girona, but I had to cut the trip short, so ended up just making a day trip. In my overnight plan I was going to end the day in Plaça Indepencia, sipping cava as the sun went down, and maybe starting the next day back there for coffee.
This plaça is so pretty with a slightly shabby old world charm. We did manage to end the day in Girona sitting at an outdoor café (next to a heat lamp – it was freezing out!) with a crisp, bubbly glass of local cava. It was one of those glorious travel experiences that becomes a defining travel memory. The view was so lovely, the atmosphere was perfect.
It was December so the center of the Plaça was full of Christmas market stalls and local families wandering and stopping for a late afternoon coffee or glass of wine.
I really hope that you will take the time to visit Girona, if not for a few days then at least for a day trip from Barcelona.
You can get to Girona by train from the Barcelona Sants station. The regular train takes 54 minutes and the fast train takes 38 minutes. There are 24 trains per day from Barcelona to Girona.
Barcelona has to be one of the prettiest cities in Europe. From its incredibly blue skies to the azure Mediterranean lapping at its shores, light bounces and races up Barcelona’s wide, sweeping boulevards, filtering through the leaves of the endless trees that line them, swirling around the octagonal intersections in the Eixample, dancing with the modernist architecture. Even in winter Barcelona captures the light and shines prettily.
The city is incredibly clean, and laid out in an easy to navigate grid that makes it perfect for strolling. My favorite cities anywhere in the world are walking cities. You really learn a city and its people when you walk it, and for the most part you can get everywhere in Barcelona on foot. The few places that are a little further out are easily accessible by metro, and Barcelona has a metro system that is simple to use, quick and very inexpensive.
If you are fortunate enough to travel to Barcelona anytime soon, be it on your own, with a tour or on a cruise, make sure you do these 10 things.
10 Things You Absolutely MUST Do In Barcelona
Walk La Rambla
La Rambla has changed so much since my first trip to Barcelona years and years ago! It is now very touristy, but even so it needs to be on your list of places to go and things to do in Barcelona. This wide, tree lined pedestrian mall is full of outdoor cafes and restaurants, shops and market stalls, and is one of the most famous points of interest in this gorgeous city. Start at Placa Catalunya and wander the full length of La Rambla to Christopher Colombus Monument at the ocean front Port Vell. A little over one kilometer or ¾ of a mile in length, La Rambla serves as the boundary of The Barrio Gotic (Gothic Quarter) on its eastern side and the neighborhood of El Raval on its western front.
Shop La Boqueria
Part way along La Rambla on the west side of the boulevard is the world famous Boqueria Market, a visual banquet that will also fill your belly!
Since 1836 every day 200 traders open their market stalls selling Iberian meats and cheeses, fresh seafoods, fruits, nuts and vegetables. Everything you could possibly need or want for a giant dinner party, dinner for two, or anything in between!
The mouthwatering sights, sounds and smells of La Boqueria are just fantastic.
Grab a snack from one of the stalls or a glass of cava at Pinotxos, but as with any busy market keep your hand on your handbag at all times and be aware of the pickpockets who are probably circulating, looking for distracted tourists.
Gaudi’s masterpiece is another must see while you are in Barcelona. Take the metro to the Sagrada Familia stop and the cathedral erupts out of the ground as you exit. It is spectacular! When he designed and started building the cathedral Gaudi knew it would not be finished during his lifetime. The project has stopped and started various times over the past century, largely due to financing, and wars.
Make sure to visit Sagrada Familia on a day full of light. I sincerely recommend having a guide to explain the cathedral to you, from the outside start with the east side and look at the sculptures depicting the nativity and birth of Christ and then walk around to the west side and see the ultra modern blockhead sculptures depicting the passion of the Christ.
From the outside the cathedral looks brooding and dark, and as you circle it (I recommend walking around it several times) pay attention to the moodiness of it’s forest-like theme.
Once you step inside the explosion of light will take your breath away! (This is why I recommend going on a sunny day). The difference between the outside and the inside is just awe inspiring and Gaudi’s use of natural light is amazing.
The stained glass windows on the west side are blue for the start of the day and as the sun drops to the eastern side of the cathedral the oranges and reds depict the inferno. It. Is. Spectacular.
Tips for buying tickets: Buy your tickets online ahead of time. Entry to the Sagrada Familia is timed, and you will be given a half hour window to enter. Basic entry is 18 euros and pricing goes up to 39 euros depending on what tours you take.
One of my favorite things we did this past trip to Barcelona was take a walking tour of the Gothic Quarter. We used Next Tours, which is a free tour, you just tip at the end.
I met several of their tour guides while I was in Barcelona, and all of them were architecture students at the university in Barcelona. They were all in love with the city, in love with the architecture and gave impassioned, sensational tours of the city. I am a big believer that the quality of a tour experience lies in the commitment of the guide taking you. There are plenty of guiding companies to choose from but I recommend Next. The guides don’t get paid and the tours are free. They earn their money solely in tips, so tip them 10-20 euros per person. They deserve it!
The Gothic Quarter is the wonderful, old, medieval section of town. I could go to Barcelona and spend every minute there – it is wonderful! The magic of doing a walking tour is in all of the minute details the guide can point out and the random little stories that you don’t find in the guide books. Our guide was a dude from Paraguay called Jesus, and he knew so many random and fascinating stories that it wove a brilliant tapestry into every street we walked along. Jesus has another year of university in Barcelona, so if you are traveling there in 2018 I suggest you try to book him.
El Born And The Picasso Museum
El Born is the neighborhood bordering the Barrio Gotic on the east side. It is full of beautiful old streets and little plazas, bars and restaurants, and the best boutique shopping in Barcelona. From the Jaume metro stop just wander up and down all the little streets, explore, get lost and explore some more.
This district looks a lot like all the little Tuscan towns that I adore, so I feel an extra connection to it.
Where the Barrio Gotic meets El Born you will find the Picasso museum. Housed in an exquisite old building, this museum is a must see, even if you are not a Picasso fan. The museum takes you on a walk through Picasso’s life from the early years (the brilliance of his work from the age of 14 will stop you in your tracks!), through every influence and chapter of his life until the end. There is plenty of Picasso’s work that I don’t identify with, but I was enraptured with the overall genius of both the man and the exhibition. I go to art museums all over the world in every city I visit, and I know I will be back here every time I come to Barcelona.
One thing I loved about visiting this museum on a freezing night in December, far, far away from tourist season, was that every corner I turned I would see young Barcelonans strolling and enjoying the art. It was the most normal of things to do, go see some art with friends and then grab some pintxos and sangria. Even though it was a Thursday night before Christmas and the bars and restaurants were full of revelers, the art museum was full too. I wish I saw that at the Phoenix Art Museum!
Visit The Magic Fountain
The magic fountain at Montjuic are another must see while in Barcelona. Since their first performance on May 19th 1929 for the Great Exhibition the dancing fountains have entertained millions and were no doubt the inspiration for Steve Wynn’s dancing fountains at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.
The Magic Fountain is accompanied by lights and music, and is quite lovely to watch. You will need to check the hours the fountain is happening. Online I had read that it was Sunday nights, but (thankfully!) one of our Next Tours guides told me it was Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights in December, otherwise we would have missed it! While we were in Barcelona the fountain was happening from 8pm til 9pm, but again check the times for when you are in town. The area was packed, and in the absence of tourists in December it was all local families, the young and the old folks. We saw all these lovely ancient couples walking along holding hands on their way to the fountain. I am so glad we went because it was just gorgeous!
The Magic Fountain at Montjuic is super easy to get to, just take the metro to the Espanya stop and follow the flow of humans up the fountain lined Av, de la Reina.
Wander Parc Guell
Of course no trip to Barcelona is complete without visiting Gaudi’s magnificent Park Guell.
Originally intended to be a modern and inspired housing development, Parc Guell’s auspicious start proved unsuccessful. Of the 60 homes that were intended to be built on triangular lots only 2 were completed, but much of the infrastructure of the community was in place, now open to the public as a wonderful, magical, tribute to the architecture of Antoni Gaudi.
Ideally you want to visit Parc Guell on one of Barcelona’s eternally sunny days, when the sunlight bounces off all the whimsically colored tiles and you can watch the screaming blue sky meet up with the endlessly blue Mediterranean in an absolute visual feast, but on this trip we went on a cold, cloudy morning. And it was still spectacular!
The Parc itself is free to visit, but entering into the Monuental Zone there is a small fee. I think it was only about 8 euros***. You definitely want to go inside and wander around, this place is magical!
I would advise getting up early and being there when the park opens, to try to get a jump on the crowds. One of the most famous photo spots is on the roof of the Sala Hipostila where you have a gorgeous view all the way to the ocean. Even on cloudy, grey days there are tons of people trying to take the same photo with the view over their shoulder! Another great photo op that is fun to get before the crowds descend is in the colonnade, where the retaining wall swoops over like a giant wave.
You can get to Parc Guell by metro, but be advised there is a 15-20 minute walk to the Parc and much of it is uphill.
Stroll Passeig de Gracia
The Passeig de Gracia is a gorgeous, incredibly wide boulevard that connects the beautiful suburb of Gracia with the center of town, the Placa Catalunya. The street is lined with designer boutiques and is also home to Gaudi’s Casa Batllo and Casa Mila. Even without the shops and the Gaudis this would still be a glorious street to wander along.
The architecture features lots of Barcelona’s modernism, which on its own makes it enchanting, and the avenue is lined with enormous trees giving an overall effect that is so incredibly beautiful. Somehow Barcelona has been able to calm its traffic, so the sound of racing engines, blaring car horns and speeding traffic is never around you. Its amazing how much that becomes white noise in other major cities, and how startling it is to be walking along a major thoroughfare in this big city and not be aware of the traffic noise!
There is a Nespresso store part way along the boulevard on the Batllo side of the street (number 55!), and for Nespresso drinkers from America this is a wonderful opportunity to buy Nespresso pods for half the price they cost in America AND get treated rudely by the snooty Nespresso workers! For the life of me I cannot understand why someone working in a shop thinks they are better than anyone else?? It’s wickedly entertaining! To me there is no difference in skill if you work in a Nespresso shop or at 7/11, except that the 7/11 worker needs to know more products and more machines.
Anyway, every Nespresso store I have ever been in is staffed with workers who think they are better than virtually every customer who walks through the door, but when I’m in Europe I make sure I go in and stock up on my coffee pods, regardless.
This is my favorite way to eat when I’m in Barcelona! If you are on a budget Pinchos are an absolute win, and if you don’t need huge plates of food, they are perfect.
Lots of bars in Barcelona will have their counter lined up with plates of tapas/ finger foods with a tooth pick in each item. You grab your drink and a plate and take whichever pinchos you want, and at the end of the night they count up the toothpicks on your plate and tell you how much you owe.
Most places have pinchos for around one euro each. A really lovely glass of Rioja runs only a couple of euros, and everywhere we ate the pinchos were quite filling. It’s the same as when you eat sushi and because you are slowly eating small pieces you realize you are done long before you have over eating. On this past trip to Barcelona we weren’t particularly on a budget, but wound up spending around 5 or 6 euros per night on dinner – a glass of wine and 3 or 4 pinchos. It was fantastic! I don’t think we ate the same things twice either, there was just so much variety. The thing I miss most about Spain since coming home is the nights out eating pinchos!
Take A Walking Tour Of Gaudi and Modernisme
Another walking tour that we did, also with Next Tours, was their Gaudi and Modernisme tour. Modernisme or Catalan Modernism is the name given to an art and literature movement that is part of Catalunya’s search for its national identity, and that was centered in Barcelona. Barcelona is perhaps most famous for its Modernisme architecture, but once you are in the know you will see signs of it everywhere in ceramic tiles, cabinet making, forged iron and glass, all of which were an important part of architecture but also stand alone. The movement which took place at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century also included art, poetry and literature. It is such an integral part of the Barcelonan and Catalan identity that it is almost a crime as a traveler to be there and not learn and explore the beauty and the idiosyncrasies of Modernisme. And of course you have to visit the Gaudis!
This was a perfect walking tour to take with an architecture student! Our guide was from Uruguay and was studying restoring architecture. She was virtually bursting at the seams with excitement to teach us and show us the intricacies of Modernisme. Fiore had endless stories about all the people involved in the movement, the people who designed the buildings, the people who lived in them, which made the entire tour fascinating. Her enthusiasm was so infectious that when we got home to our apartment that night (after pinchos!) we pulled out all the books the apartment had on Gaudi and Modernisme and went back over everything.
If you are visiting Barcelona I would recommend doing these walking tours at the beginning of your trip because they will change how you see every street you walk down, how you look at every building, and your appreciation of this gorgeous city.
Of course there are hundreds of other things to do in Barcelona, but I hope you will at least try these ten!